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That time Roy Bedichek killed his neighbor

A few months ago, I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with some of the classic Texan literary forefathers such as Roy Bedichek and J. Frank Dobie. I found well-loved copies of Dobie’s Tales of Old Time Texas & Bedichek’s Adventures with a Texas Naturalist from a used book store. These both suited me to get a general sense of what each author had to offer. As I got to know the gentlemen through their written word, one paragraph from Bedichek’s Adventures with a Texas Naturalist stopped me in my tracks. I took a picture of the page and sent it to my friend, “did Bedichek kill a guy??”


Dobie’s collection of short stories: Tales of Old Time Texas scratched my itch for classic Texan lore. This is a good book to pick up for 5-10 minutes between obligations. The stories reminded me of what childhood in Texas felt like. It brought me back to those musty cafetorium recitals about settlers during frontier days we did in elementary school. and Dobie’s voice reads just like somebody’s grand-pappy would tell it. Way back in my throat, I could feel a little twinge of my accent come out of dormancy as my mind journeyed through Hill Country brush in search of Spanish gold, spurs a-janglin’. 

With Bedichek’s Adventures with a Texas Naturalist, the author requests closer consideration. Where Dobie tells a story, Bedichek takes the reader on a journey. Precluded with just the right amount of context, Bedi’s words stroll onto the page, gingerly sit atop a bench big enough for two, and gently pat the side next to him beckoning the reader uncomfortably, yet undeniably, intimately close. Reading Adventures at first feels like listening to a long-beloved professor, but you’re not sure why. Not until the reader is swept along by the intricate details of whatever is captivating the author’s attention is it clear why the voice behind the words is so beloved. His use of wordplay in his explorations of natural life is engaging. As Bedi narrows his focus to the minutiae of Texas’ flora and fauna, the reader is taken on a meditation with him that sharpens our perspectives of what we see when we look at, say a ladybug, for instance. This is where Bedichek’s writing comes to life, to witness his surrender into whatever natural phenomenon is happening around him. Adventures is a lesson in meditation and focus. The attentive thoughtfulness Bedichek brings with his observations may not make the subject matter that much more interesting for every reader, BUT the way he talks about the subject matter is inspiring alone. – It’s like when you’re high, and you notice something infinitesimally small, and the sheer glee of such a profound discovery overcomes you.

The part that stuck with me the most though, in the ‘Nature Lore and Folklore” chapter, Bedichek reminisces about a time he was living in New Mexico and was marveling at a pair of western screech owls in his yard (his title for the owls is politically outdated). 

Bedichek erects a nest for the owls, seemingly, the only suitable location is on his fence. He mentions installing an opening on both the east and west sides, uncertain of their preference for a view of the sunrise or the sunset. Bedi doesn’t mention a preference for cardinal direction, just that the owls’ preference turned out to be towards the neighbors’ house. The neighbor made increasingly emphatic requests to Bedi to take the owl nest down, suggesting himself as a follower of the folklore that the birds where a harbinger of death. Bedi, decidedly not a disciple of the same superstition, maintained his position of landlord for the owls.

The neighbor continued to plead with Bedi to take down the housing. One day, the owl-opposed neighbor had just finished telling a story to a group of neighbors as Bedi strolls up. Bedi immediately recognized his owls overseeing the conversation on a branch up above. Keen to finish the job, Bedi loudly addressed the owls, causing them to shit on the neighbor’s follicle-free head, and abscond.

The neighbor is pissed, storms home, slams his screen door, and is found in bed with a fever the next day. A doctor comes by the following day, and two weeks later, succumbs to his headshot.

In the introductions of both Adventures with a Texas Naturalist and Dobie’s Tall Tales of Texas, both authors disparage the literary predecessors that came before them as being inferior. A practice inherited by Larry McMurtry who echoed these sentiments but about Bedichek and Dobie themselves years later in his “Southwestern Literature” chapter of In a Narrow Grave. So, I hope that the reader will afford this author a little leeway regarding originality to be able to celebrate an apparent Texas literature tradition.

Bedichek’s dismissal of his neighbor’s superstition is a reverberation of white culture’s eschewing native wisdom. We don’t talk about the neighbor in Bedichek’s Adventures because: A. he is only present for about two pages, dwarfed by the presence of our majority representative “protagonist”. B. If western society were to recognize Bedichek’s killing of his neighbor would be to acknowledge truthfulness and accuracy in ethnic/indigenous superstitions and spirituality- not likely in the postpartum stages of undermining Indigenous spirituality. To acknowledge a non-culturally dominant belief in the supernatural would then diminish the impact of the previous century’s attempt by ‘civilized’ culture to extinguish any efficacy from indigenous beliefs. White society can’t afford any patience towards ethnic styles of thinking, as it would be in direct conflict with their own. 

Skepticism protects previously instilled beliefs so one doesn’t have to acknowledge being wrong and have to learn something new to correct it. Skepticism allows us intellectual laziness. We can dismiss an idea before it has a chance to threaten what we already know, or what we thought we knew.

Bedichek’s skepticism over his neighbors’ upheaval over the owls is a continuation of delegitimizing ethnic/indigenous perspectives. Of course, from his retelling of the story, its clear Bedichek does not believe the owls will have an outcome on his neighbor, and its equally clear that he isn’t open to any flexibility on that perspective. 

I’m not trying to cancel anybody, but when we talk about overcoming inequality- in any regard- the masculine agenda of perpetually claiming dominance over those that came before is not a productive means to making sure all the ears listening at the table continue to care to hear. 

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